Saturday, March 21, 2009

Togolese-ism # 1

It has been a long time and I am overwhelmed with all that I want to share with you. However, I would like to start this entry with a “Togolese-ism” or one of the little things that I have found striking/amusing here, that I will remember 15 years from now, that, in my opinion, are the things that make Togo, Togo for a Peace Corps Volunteer. There are numerous Togolese-isms and I hope to share many of them with you in future blog entries. Today I start with Togolese-ism #1: Dead Yovo Clothes.

I’ve been shocked nearly to death on a number of occasions by the clothing I’ve seen here. I’m not talking about the beautiful, traditional, colorful «pagne» that makes up the majority of Togolese’ wardrobes, but what I am talking about is what people here call “dead Yovo (Euro/American) clothes. “Dead Yovo clothes” can be loosely defined as our old crap that we send to developing countries. We rummage through our closets in an effort perhaps to “do good” with minimal commitment, assuage our guilt, clean out our closets, or any mélange thereof. In addition, there is no real fashion faux-pas when shopping “dead Yovo” for wearing yovo-anything is a fashion/status statement all its own. That’s to say a hot pink t-shirt, manufactured in 1980s, goes perfectly with Gap jeans of the 90s topped off with a trendy floral grandma-garden hat. In my 5 some months here I’ve seen thousands of American t-shirts, some of which make the thrift-store addict inside scream “I’ve got to have that!” others of which make me seriously assess the affects of globalization not to mention materialism. Here are a few examples:
- The infamous Nebraska Cornhuskers have, for better or worse, influenced the Groggel family’s lives. Needless to say, the first time (that’s right not the last) I saw a t-shirt in tribute to good ol’ Tom Osborne of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, I was shocked. “Hey you!” I said to the young man wearing the shirt, “that comes from my village!” I was a little offended by his response, not because he was impolite but because he was not at all surprised or shocked, instead he was like “ya, so what?” Anyway it was that day that I started to understand a little better the Togolese fashion world. The young man was not wearing the shirt because he is an avid Cornhusker fan (there is only one type of football here- the real kind), but because he found the t-shirt «jolie» - pretty. What is pretty about a middle-aged white guy (Tom) you ask- I’ll never know- but I do understand what it represents to be able to wear Yovo clothes- you have money. That’s right your material donation to “” (not real) got sent to the coast of Togo right into the hands of crafty merchants who in turn make a mighty profit selling our old clothes in local markets throughout Togo. Still feeling good about your last spring cleaning donation?
- In addition to my Cornhusker flashback, I have seen a Stowe Vermont soccer jersey (an old family vacation spot), a Carelton College t-shirt (St. Olaf’s neighboring college), and an intramural basketball t-shirt from Millard West High School (the high school of all my siblings).
- The ironic thing about it all is that our crap is not seen as crap here which in some ways contradicts my argument against international clothing donations. If I am so lucky to make it home for a visit during my two years I am sure I will rummage through everything I’ve ever owned and bring back as much as I can for my friends and fellow villagers. Nonetheless, I urge all of you to think about the voyage your crap could potentially make the next time you make a donation, what impact that has, not only on the environment (a costly voyage), but also on the people/country on the receiving end of things. Why is it that our free-promotional Walmart t-shirt is such a status symbol here?

In other news, last week marked 3 months here in village. I attended the Peace Corps In-Service Training seminar and was reunited with all of my friends from training in Agou. I returned to village reinvigorated with a plethora of ideas for projects and advice from my trainers. Here are a few more things that are in the works:
- Demonstration field: I am working the fields a little to show those interested organic farming techniques that can seriously help the fertility of the soil. That includes the use of a cover crop called Mucuna and the incorporation of nitrogen-fixing trees. This also helps dispel the long-held stereotype that Euro/Americans are incapable of manual labor.
- Public trash system: with the help of a group of motivated young men, I am trying to plan places where we can construct public dumps. This is in an attempt to eliminate the sanitary problem here in Datcha. The details are still being worked out…I’ll keep you updated.
- Reforestation- the ongoing project of planting beaucoup (a lot) of trees. I have started with some of the primary schools to get the kids interested as well.
- Of course the larger projects of latrines and water pumps are still there are present and represent a larger goal of the village.
- The school garden is going well and I hope to get people interested in doing gardens on their own so there can be some market for fresh produce in village. I am lucky to get good tomatoes and onions in village, but there is a serious lack of edible leafy-greens in rural Togo.

In closing, I am in good health, high spirits, and in a constant state of learning/observing/questioning. Everyday brings new challenges and rewards no matter how big or small. Already, I think I have learned a lot about myself (living in a small African village by yourself can have that affect) and also that I have a lot of growing to do and a lot of patience and wisdom to acquire if I truly want to “be the change I wish to see..”

Love you all. Peace.


Videgla said...
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Videgla said...

Hey Laura,I see that you got a good insight of the "Abloni" or yovo clothes. I used to have several of those myself. Funny thing is that, european tourists shop for those as well. Because nobody needs heavy leather coats in a tropical weather, they end up being dirt cheap. Anyways, I am glad to hear from you and I am also pleased that you are doing well. Take care and Keep up the good work!